When I wrote the article for Eutaw Street Report about being in Hyun Soo Kim’s corner back in the beginning of April, I realistically expected Kim wouldn’t be a starter right away. It took a while for Jung Ho Kang to get regular starts with the Pirates after all. Also Joey Rickard was the next big thing coming out of Orioles camp and his bat was red-hot, so it made sense to put him in the lineup to see what he had. With Rickard starting, it wouldn’t be easy to get Kim in the lineup, but he’d get in as a pinch-hitter and make a couple starts a week perhaps.
Let’s take a look at total games played at any position before today’s doubleheader by those eligible to play left field to see how that played out:
Seven games for Kim? That’s it? Okay, well perhaps Rickard is still on his hot streak and Kim just didn’t make the most of his opportunities. Let’s see what their stats are against right-handed pitchers according to Fangraphs:
Rickard: .243/.275/.311/.586, .258 wOBA, 58 wRC+
Reimold: .333/.333/.800/1.133, .477 wOBA, 218 wRC+
Kim: .556/.619/.611/1.230, .537 wOBA, 262 wRC+
Reimold has more than justified his playing time, but Rickard? Those stats are Brandon Fahey-esque.
Actually, Brandon Fahey was a better hitter in his rookie season as he had a .244/.313./.355/.638 line against righties with a .288 wOBA and 68 wRC+.
Yes, I’ll say it again, Rickard has been worse than Brandon Fahey. Let that sink in.
Meanwhile Kim literally has been the best hitter the Orioles have had against right-handed pitching when he has played – not Machado, not Davis, not Trumbo and not even Reimold, but Hyun Soo Kim, the guy the Orioles have gathering splinters on the bench while they struggle to generate runs.
Perhaps then Rickard is just the superior defender to Kim? After all, Buck Showalter loves great defense and will look past offensive shortcomings if you can make the plays in the field. Let’s take a look at their Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in left field:
Rickard: -5 DRS
Reimold: 0 DRS
Kim: 0 DRS
Once again, Reimold can justify his playing time but Rickard really can’t.
(By the way, Brandon Fahey had 3 DRS in left field his rookie season.)
Now against left-handed pitching, Buck has also benched Kim but it’s because Kim hits left-handed and lefties don’t usually hit left-handed pitching. Kim must fall into this category, right?
Let’s look at his splits from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2015:
Those look like pretty even splits to me. So why hasn’t he had any at bats against left-handed pitching at all? Shouldn’t he be in the lineup every day if he was able to get on base against both in the KBO? His on-base skills against right-handers have translated so I would think his skills would remain the same against lefties. For somebody that is supposed to have attention to detail, surely Buck has seen these stats, right?
Why does Kim also not at least see the lion’s share of playing time in left field against righties over Rickard if he’s the better hitter and fielder and has a pretty decent reputation of making plays even though they may not be “pretty”?
I think the answer to all these questions is that Buck Showalter simply does not appreciate Hyun Soo Kim, no matter what he’s said about him and he’s not alone as I’ve seen more things written about Nolan Reimold specifically but nothing really acknowledging just how good Kim is performing – until now of course.
Buck and others made judgements about Kim after his early struggles in Spring Training and wrote him off, but Kim is showing to be every bit of what Dan Duquette and the Orioles scouts saw in Korea, in spite of being benched game after game.
Buck also hasn’t acknowledged what Kim has done to help the Orioles win on the field. Let’s take that final game of the series against the Yankees for instance. In the bottom of the 10th, Kim hits an infield single just like he’s done before. Schoop comes up next and singles to centerfield, and Kim astutely runs to third base to set up the winning run in scoring position with no outs because he had read scouting reports on Ellsbury not having a good arm. The Yankees have Andrew Miller warming up and Alvarez is due to bat next. So what does Buck do? Instead of letting Kim potentially score the winning run that he set up after being benched for multiple games, he removes him for Nolan Reimold and lets Alvarez hit against the lefty Miller. Granted all he needed was a fly ball out, but Alvarez could have grounded out to the infield quite easily given his struggles against left-handers, where Reimold would have had a better chance to cash in the run given his success against lefties. It just made no sense to make that move to remove Kim and instead use Reimold as a pinch runner.
To me this was a pretty deliberate move by Showalter, denying Kim the right to score the winning run and get the spotlight for doing so. He’d just seen him run out an infield single and move from first to third on another single, so he’s got to know Kim can score on a fly ball. I think Buck wanted to put Kim in his place, again.
Why do I think so?
After the game, when the talk went to that 10th inning and Kim’s setup of the winning run by running from first base to 3rd base on Schoop’s single, what did Buck talk about? Well take a look at what he said to Roch Kubatko and other media:
“’The ball took the center field a little bit away from the target, and being left-handed, too, he had to turn and throw. Not going to get into (Jacoby) Ellsbury’s arm or what have you. Jon’s a good bunter, but just missed a breaking ball they hung him 0-1. But that was a big hit by Jon.’”
There’s nothing there about Kim at all. He didn’t acknowledge that Kim’s reading of the scouting report and execution of his baserunning contributed to the win, just that Schoop had a “big hit.”
That didn’t look petty there at all, Buck.
How about MLB.com Orioles beat writer Brittany Ghiroli who I have also noticed hasn’t exactly been a Kim supporter but has fallen in the pro-Rickard camp? What does her write up of the game say about that situation?
“The inning started with Hyun Soo Kim beating out a dribbler for an infield single off Yankees reliever Johnny Barbato. Jonathan Schoop then lined a single into center field to put the potential winning run, pinch-runner Nolan Reimold, 90 feet away.”
So again, there’s nothing about Kim going from first to third on that single or him reading the scouting report on Ellsbury. Also saying that Reimold was the winning run, not even mentioning that Kim was on third, would lead anybody reading that to think that Reimold was the runner that somehow made it to third. The truth is the only reason Reimold, and not Kim was in that position was Buck Showalter. Kim once again gets no credit for setting up that situation. Calling Kim’s hit a “dribbler” instead of just “infield single” also makes him sound weak and reinforces that image of him being a weak hitter that doesn’t belong in MLB, something that simply isn’t true.
To me with examples like that, the bias against Kim still looms very large in the world of Orioles baseball. While some have come around to what Kim can provide, other fans, members of the Orioles media and Buck Showalter himself in my opinion, still don’t see what the Orioles have in Kim and are instead hoping either Rickard can get back to what he was in Spring Training and the first week of the season or that Nolan Reimold will become a regular, all so Kim once again becomes irrelevant.
He sure isn’t irrelevant in South Korea.
Let’s throw out a scenario to compare how this treatment of Kim is being received there using somebody that was extremely popular in Baltimore as Kim was in Korea:
Imagine if you will, the Orioles somehow let a 27 year old Cal Ripken Jr. go to the Doosan Bears in the KBO after playing multiple seasons in MLB and developing a reputation for being one of the best shortstops in the game and an All-Star. The Doosan Bears then proceed to bench Ripken and only let him play in a handful of games because they think it’s “good for him to watch and adapt to the Korean baseball culture.” How would Ripken feel? How would Orioles fans feel that would like to see Ripken play in Korea?
All you have to do is look at Twitter to see how Korean fans feel about the Orioles’ treatment of Kim and it’s not warm and fuzzy. The Orioles continue to damage their reputation with Korean fans and players the more Kim does well and the continued lack of playing time he receives.
So why does Kim get all that respect and admiration in South Korea but not nearly as much in Baltimore?
Kim, in essence is the anti-Oriole, and I think that’s why Buck and others just don’t appreciate him or respect his skill set. He has a plan at the plate, is a student of the game and he’s an intelligent baserunner. Sure he doesn’t hit for power but he gets on base and he’s consistent in getting on base, and the Orioles haven’t had that combination of skills in a player for a long time. Buck and others are used to and want to see aggressive hitters that hit for power and go up there hacking away so they don’t miss a good pitch that they can deposit into the stands. That’s not Hyun Soo Kim, and that’s a good thing.
No matter how little he is appreciated by fans, the media or Buck Showalter, if the Orioles want to win it all this season, they must respect and #PlayKim.